The trees that created the now petrified logs grew in an ancient period in geologic history, called the Triassic, and were of the species named Araucariaxylon arizonicum. Around 200 million years ago, volcanic activity caused many trees to fall, and the fallen logs were washed into a river and buried quickly (faster than they could decompose) and deeply by sediment. This sealed them from oxygen and slowed their decay. The levels of volcanic ash in the sediment created silica, and over time this replaced the logs’ fibrous organic material and crystallized, forming a core of quartz. Other elements are present in smaller quantities, such as magnesium, copper, iron and zinc, and also semi-precious gems such as amethyst and citrine.
The upper layers of sediment have been eroded away over time, exposing the now petrified trees. Some of them are as large as 100 feet by 6 feet in diameter. They are multi-coloured and, because of the quartz in particular, glitter in the sun. The different colours are caused by different minerals – for instance, iron gives many their orange and red tones, which magnesium has turned other blue or purple.
Favorite thing: As you would expect in this desert environment, the park is home to a number of reptiles, both snakes and lizards. The former include rattlesnakes, so be careful – keep to the paths and make a noise if you do walk through any undergrowth. We heard the distinctive rattle a couple of times but saw no snakes at all. We did however spot this beauty of a lizard, which I think from checking a few websites must be a collared lizard. These are native to much of the central and south western United States, as well as to northern Mexico. They like rocky areas with sparse vegetation, so the Petrified Forest must be a perfect home for them. It gets its name from the black bands behind its head, clearly visible on my photo.
Yes, animals do live on the Petrified National Forest ! Not everything is petrified! This is actually a living forest – the grasslands support hundreds of plants and animal species which include prarie dogs, coyotes, gopher snakes, bobcats, pronghorns, lizards, tarantulas, squirrels, road-runners…
These wild animals can also have diseases which included rabies, hanta virus and even plaque! So, do not allow your pets (or kids in my situation) near any live or dead animals, and avoid nests and burrows. However, be aware that no pets are allowed in the wilderness area if you are to hike.
Fondest memory: My fondest memory of my visit to the Petrified Forest National Park came toward the end. My friend Brian and I were getting ready to leave after a stop at the South Entrance Gift Shop when we saw a petite female Park Ranger struggling against the wind to take the American Flag down for the day. Brian and I helped her get the flag down, and she let us fold it. Not everyone gets to take down the flag in a national park. Photos soon.
Favorite thing: Try to time your visit to March or April. You need a bit of moisture on the desert to bring out the colours. It does snow in Arizona in March & April . There may be other good times . Mid summer is questionable .